6
Feb

The joys of the English language

Words are often laden with baggage and assumptions that fall far from the original usage of the word. Now multiply that by X when a particular discipline assigns a definition that is precise and possibly outside of the day to day meaning of the word.

What is Feeling anyway?

Yesterday I was talking to a man with a preference for Thinking and a woman with a preference for Feeling. A couple of misconceptions surfaced during our conversation. The first is that men have a Thinking preference and that women are the ones with a Feeling preference. The short answer to that assumption is NOT TRUE. I will save my longer answer for another post.

The second thing that I became aware of is how easily we slipped into talking about an emotional reaction that someone had to a specific situation and equating that to the preference for Feeling.

In the MBTI, Feeling is one of two ways of making decisions. People with a preference for Feeling base their decisions primarily on values and on subjective evaluation of person-centered concerns. On the other hand, those with a preference for Thinking base their decisions on logic and objective analysis of cause and effect. Both are valuable ways of making a decision. Period. One is not better than the other and the best decisions reflect both functions. You can read more about the characteristics of these two function preferences here.

Thinkers have feelings and vice-versa

It seems easy to slip from the purity of the definition to include other things that the word itself suggests. When we are talking about Feeling in the context of MBTI it refers solely to making decisions. It does not refer to how we react to events in an emotional manner. When we are talking about “having feelings” both thinkers and feelers feel. Feeling is indeed a rational function. Making decisions based on values requires applying the laws of reason. Those with a preference for Feeling can also be rational, logical and analytical.

Believe me when I say that, as a person with a preference for Feeling, I can also have a strong negative reaction to inappropriate displays of emotion – especially when someone appears “needy”. This isn’t something reserved for those with a Thinking preference. Emoting and affect simply isn’t what Feeling refers to in an MBTI context. I have also experience genuine compassion, care and understanding from Thinking types… more so at times than I could ever offer.

Check your interpretations at the door

These interpretations happen all the time not just with the Myers Briggs. Becoming aware of the assumptions that we are operating under is an ongoing journey. Please don’t confuse being “emotional” or being “needy” with having a preference for Feeling. It helps to go back to the definition as used in the context of the Myers Briggs and not muddy the waters.

Do you have emotions or do emotions have you?

Category: MBTI Facts
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3 Responses to “When does “feeling” not equal “emotion”?”


Lindy Asimus February 7, 2009

The Thinking base of which you speak, namely decisions on logic and objective analysis are not necessarily only about cause and effect and may very well include data relating to the Other Person. Indeed, such data may relate very much to the ecology of the situation from the point of view of that Other Person, and in terms of real potential outcomes – not just how the person may feel about it.

Thank you for noticing that Thinking and Feeling are not defined by gender and that Thinking preference does not preclude compassion, understanding and care. Indeed, you can be sure that if you get such from a Thinking type, it is deliberate and not an accident, or a side effect of making themselves feel *something* or other. ;-).

Martin Fisher February 7, 2009

>>A couple of misconceptions surfaced during our conversation. The first is that men have a Thinking preference and that women are the ones with a Feeling preference. The short answer to that assumption is NOT TRUE. <<

But it is surely a reasonable assumption that an average roomful of men will show a Thinking preference while a roomful of women will show a Feeling preference, because all the stats I’ve seen (for various countries) show a 2 or 3 to 1 bias this way among men and women. Which isn’t very surprising given the content of male/ female stereotypes. It would also seem likely that through such stereotypes Feeling men and Thinking women are to some degree pressured towards use of their less-preferred decision-making function much more than T-men and F-women.

As for the difference between T and F, I agree absolutely that this has to be stripped away from the showing of emotion. F decision-making is based on scales of values. Indeed, the place Fs rule supreme is in the making of ‘value-judgments’: right/ wrong, nice/nasty, beautiful/ ugly. It is no accident that these map closely onto the decision-making required in arts subjects, while Ts’ preferred true/ false-type decision-making tends to find scientific subjects more its thing, on average.

It is also vitally important to recognize that these ways of decision-making tackle completely different issues. F is not simply a poor way of doing T, as unfortunately so many Fs think, or are conditioned to think. But there is little that ‘true/false’ T analysis can bring to bear on questions like “Is capital punishment right or wrong?” or “Is Beethoven a greater composer than Mozart (or Paul McCartney)?”. Philosophically these sorts of questions are of a completely different type to “Is the world flat” or “Does E = m x (c -squared)?”

I love the fact that long ago a philosopher (Hulme?) issued a challenge to fellow-philosophers to derive an ‘Ought’ from an ‘Is’: to derive a rigorous logical argument from factual propositions (the T-realm), for example that we OUGHT not, for example, to lie or kill one another (the F-realm). No-one has yet succeeded! T doesn’t work here at all: we are into the F realm completely.

What our present society suffers badly from is the feeling that because F decisions are subjective and cannot be proved ‘right’ by logic, we should never do them at all. Business ethics are reduced to ‘Big payouts for shareholders are the only Right’, value in the arts is judged increasingly by sales figureds and box-office stats. Everything that isn’t truly ‘popular’ (enjoyed by well over 50% of people) is dodgy and should probably be banned, and certainly doesn’t have any claim to funding. Bah!!!

By the way, I’m a T who gave up science because it was all memory-learning, not real thinking. So I read english…

Martin Fisher June 3, 2009

Sandy: in your first post you said “Yesterday I was talking to a man with a preference for Thinking and a woman with a preference for Feeling. A couple of misconceptions surfaced during our conversation. The first is that men have a Thinking preference and that women are the ones with a Feeling preference. The short answer to that assumption is NOT TRUE. I will save my longer answer for another post.”

Have you posted more about ‘this NOT TRUE assumtion’ yet? I agree that it’s a dodgy generalisation if it says ‘all men do this, all women do that’. But like most stereotypes it does surely embody a grain of truth: a roomful of men will usually exhibit T preferences, a roomful of women F ones, because there is a significant preponderence of men with T, women with F, something of the order of 2 to 1 in each case. Where it goes horribly wrong is if it becomes a litmus test for ‘all real men’ and ‘all real women’.

This is where I believe that MBTI has a vital role in flagging up the UNTRUTH in these stereotypes: being in the minority of men or women is perfectly OK, and has nothing whatsoever to do with sexual identity: “Toughminded, analytical women are all lesbians, involved, caring men are all gay blah blah.” There’s an awful lot of such thinking still out there, along with all sorts of stuff about there’s only one way of being… a man, a woman, a manager, a parent, a teacher (usually the way that suits the commentator’s own way of doing it). Much of this comes from their own MBTI preferences, usually a complete unknown to them, so that their stance is really just an assumption that the world would be a much better place if everybody was just like them! This for me is a key battleground for MBTI: people are not all alike, and were never meant to be.